Monday, April 22, 2013

Ligonier blog: Paul Helm's Molinism 101

So how interesting is it that Ligonier's blog has a post from Paul Helm on Molinism 101? It's interesting because I posted links on molinism here at my Reformed blog and am working on a post detailing how reformed Christians can and should embrace Molina's middle knowledge and view on divine providence. Now while it's interesting that Ligonier posted this piece in their blog, that doesn't mean it has changed my mind on the molinism and reformed theology. I have some questions about his post and hopefully one of my readers can answer them (Tony I'm talking to you). Let's get into it.

Paul Helm seems to have a nice understanding of Molinism. He wrote:
"What is middle knowledge? At the center of this recent interest has been God’s knowledge of possibilities involving human choice (the ‘counterfactuals of freedom’ as they have been called). Why this innovation? Its proponents are concerned to preserve what they consider to be two vital beliefs. The first is God’s providence and total foreknowledge. The second is the idea that human beings are ineradicably free in an indeterministic sense. When we speak of indeterministic freedom, we mean that any human being, in a given set of circumstances, has the power to choose A or to choose not-A. The problem is obvious. How can this be consistent with God’s universal providential rule and his purposes of redemption?"
Yup.

He then goes on to explain, on Molinism, how that question is answered.

"The Molinists’ way of attempting to keep all this together was to suggest that there existed, besides God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge, a third kind of knowledge. They argued that God also has “middle knowledge” (between the other two). What this means can be briefly explained. Given a whole array of possible worlds (that God knows), given worlds in which men and women were free in the relevant indeterministic sense, God knows what they would freely choose in every possible circumstance. God has knowledge of all such possible outcomes. If placed in one set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. If placed in another set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. This is true for all possible people and all possible circumstances. God has this middle knowledge by inspection of all the possibilities that the free will of each person might choose.

In His power and wisdom, He chooses that possible world, that total combination of individuals and circumstances, whose expressions of free will best serve His purposes. Thus, God’s omniscience is preserved, and human free will is preserved. The moral evil that occurs in the chosen world is not the direct responsibility of God but of those creatures who exercise their choices in a malevolent fashion."
Again, yup. You're correct sir. God chooses that possible world. He chooses what world to actualize. He sovereignly brings into being the individuals and circumstances that best serve His purposes. That is sovereign. Also, man's free will is still kept in the equation. This seems like a good way to explain the biblical concept of divine providence! Why then does Paul Helm, close to the end of his post, write this?
"...the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree. God can only bring to pass the actions of free agents via his middle knowledge of what they would freely do if…
Further, given the Molinist view of freedom, it is impossible for God to bring about the conversion of any person by the exercise of His effective call, for in the view of the Molinists it is always possible for an individual to resist God’s grace. Men and women must freely cooperate with what God says and does if they are to become Christians. God’s grace is always resistible. Reformed Christians have no good reason to accept the speculative concept of middle knowledge and strong reasons to reject it."
 Why did Paul write that? I was reading along in the post thinking "Okay, he does understand this, he understands that. Huh, what is his concern then with molinism?" Then I get to the above part, "Whaaaaaaaat?" Men and women would be free to resist his decree? Actually no, the men and women who are created, living, making decisions, etc. are only doing so because God, in His power, wisdom, and sovereignty chose to make them to bring about His purposes. See that's the thing with molinism: it's not *just* foreknowledge. Simple foreknowledge doesn't get the same result as molinism. On molinism, God is working through all the various circumstances, decisions, possibilities, worlds, etc. that serve His purposes then he creates. He builds. He does what God does. It's not as if he creates everything then hopes, wishes, and pleads with man to conform to his plan. On the contrary, man does what God has chosen for reality (directly and indirectly, you know the permissive will thing).

I'm very surprised at Paul Helm's concerns with molinism. From my tadpole, amateur perspective it seems as though he is confusing molinism with open theism or general foreknowledge of the charismatic/pentecostal variety. I don't know. Someone help me out here. 

4 comments:

  1. I'm guessing it was one of those times when a person writes a paper and only briefly discusses, at the end, why something is wrong, or what they think is wrong with it. Matt Slick has a bad habit of doing that, as well, and it drives me a little bonkers sometimes.

    "Cowabungists are people who believe the Ninja Turtles are God, and blah blah blah blah blah...[five pages later]...oh yeah, and we know this is wrong because Jesus said the word 'follow' that one time. The End."

    It's like...wha? You want to present a little bit stronger response there for those who are curious about the two viewpoints? Part of it might be a realization that people reading your posts already share your opinion, so you're assuming they'll just fill in the blanks for you. I dunno, that's my two cents.

    I did share the link to that page on my Twitter account, but only because I found it to be a fairly good summary of Molinism for people who might be curious, not because it presented a strong counter response to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha I love the TMNT example. Love it.

      You could be right. I just don't see how in one sentence he wrote, "In His power and wisdom, He chooses that possible world, that total combination of individuals and circumstances, whose expressions of free will best serve His purposes. Thus, God’s omniscience is preserved, and human free will is preserved..." then wrote "...the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation." and "it is impossible for God to bring about the conversion of any person by the exercise of His effective call, for in the view of the Molinists it is always possible for an individual to resist God’s grace."

      It's just funny, to me anyway, that he clearly wrote and seemingly understands that on molinism "[God] chooses that possible world" that best servers his purposes then at the end acts as if molinism makes God the puppet or contingent upon his creatures. People are made for something greater than themselves on molinism. There is a high view of God's sovereignty on the view and to read someone seemingly understand it then terribly, in my opinion - I could be dead wrong, misrepresent it at the end of an article.

      Delete
    2. He would probably have to explain the specifics. Sometimes nuances can mean everything when comparing theologies. For example, one might say simply "Roman Catholicism relies upon works," but to a Roman Catholic who recognizes there is still a level of grace in Rome's theology, that statement would sound weird. The individual would have to go into greater detail on how works done by an individual, either in the church or outside, offer atonement, appeasement, etc.

      Delete
    3. Good point (as usual - geez Tony :P let me just be upset, just kidding)

      Delete

Reformed Seth appreciates and encourages your comments, but we do have guidelines for posting comments:

1. Avoid profanities or foul language unless it is contained in a necessary quote.

2. Stay on topic.

3. Disagree, but avoid ad hominem attacks.

4. Threats are treated seriously and reported to law enforcement.

5. Spam and advertising are not permitted in the comments area.

Thanks!